This day last year was our last day we had with Elliott, the day he was turned to stardust. Today hurts beyond belief knowing it was the last day we held him, the real start to the new beginning on a different life we never wanted. This is our story of that day.
The morning we were taking Elliott from hospital and to his funeral, we woke before dawn. I held our beautiful boy and couldn’t stop crying. I laid him on my chest and thought,
“How am I going to let him go?”
I had a shower and as the light came up things became different. Adam and I strangely felt relieved we were taking him home, a sense of peace, a resolution that we weren’t actually saying goodbye but that he was coming home. We felt it was the right thing to do, the right thing by him- he needed to be at rest now. We felt that waiting would be hurting him, as we noticed how he was changing. In all he had changed he was still perfect, still beautiful, still our son. But we knew it was time.
I opened the blinds for the first time since being in hospital. I wanted to give him light, to feel the outside world and not just the hospital room. We waited until the last minute to put him into his carry basket that that funeral parlour leant us. We kissed him over and over again and built the courage to walk out.
I made Adam check if there was anyone in the hallway first. Then I had to zip the top of the basket up so no one could see him as we left. I felt a physical pain in my chest and stomach. There is nothing more unnatural to do than cover baby your baby’s face. I felt like I had just put a blanket over his head and I was smothering and killing him. I walked as quickly as I could crying in pain, shaking as I walked, clutching him so tightly. We got to the car and I frantically unzipped him, checked he was ok, kissed him and said sorry to him. The car trip home was like the first trip home with Emma or Ashton. 40 KM/H felt like 100.
“Be careful Adam, don’t go too fast.” I said panicked. It felt wrong to have him sitting in a carry bag on my lap. He should be in a car seat, strapped in safely. I felt like I was an irresponsible mother, not keeping him safe. I thought, what happens if we are in a car crash, he’ll go through the window.
We took him to our house, and took turns holding him in his carrier while the other got ready for the funeral. We started to run around the house frantically in panic. The house was left in a complete mess, there were ants everywhere from the rubbish bag that had sat there for 3 days, there was a plate of food on the bench from just before we went up to the hospital completely unprepared to stay there. Adam so angry saying “I can’t believe the house is like this, this is the only time he’ll be in our home and this is what it’s like, he deserves better”.
I took my wedding dress out and counted 5 flowers on the lace to represent each of our family members and cut a piece off. I took the first Pandora bead Adam bought me off my bracelet, a bracelet I had worn everyday for the last two years. The bead was a family charm- it had a mum, dad, girl, boy and baby. When he bought it I said it was a sign to have another. Now that we had Elliott, our family of 5 was on that bead. I tied it onto the piece of fabric from my dress and put it aside to put in with Elliott.
Adam couldn’t find clothes he wanted to wear. He wanted to wear something honourable for his son, but he said nothing was good enough. How do you choose clothes to wear for your son’s funeral? His face was red and I could see the rage building inside him. I watched him and thought “is this really happening, is this really our life right now?”. Nothing was working, nothing was right. Reflecting back on it now I realise that no matter what, nothing would have been right because in a couple of hours we would be standing next to our son’s coffin.
I wanted to put in a pair of socks my sister bought for us when we first found out I was pregnant but we couldn’t find them. This added to his anger as my sister had done so much for us, more than anyone should have, and we couldn’t even find these socks that were so precious. He’d moved them half a dozen times in the past fortnight but couldn’t find them now. I emptied the crates of clothes we had aside for Elliott trying to find them. There I was, standing in a room surrounded by Elliott’s clothes, clothes we picked for him, clothes I was going to start washing soon ready for him, clothes he would never wear. I became very upset that this time wasn’t calm, special and peaceful like we wanted. All we wanted was to bring him home and show him our home, his home, before the funeral and now this time was filled with stress and panic.
I said to Adam, “let’s stop, just stop, nothing will be good enough and time is ticking”. We gave up on everything and took Elliott into our bed, the bed that has seen 7 years of co-sleeping with our other children. We laid there dressed in funeral clothes, with our baby in the middle of us in a carry case, not wanting to disturb him. We put our hand on him, stared at him, and tried to hold that moment forever.
“You’re home baby, this is your home” we said to him, “Soon you’ll be at home forever with us, we’re bringing you home “
We set an alarm as we didn’t have much time until the funeral. We were lucky and are truly grateful to have had 20 minutes with him like that. Although my gratefulness doesn’t stop me from having moments of paralysing sadness when I think we only had a tiny 20 minutes out of a lifetime to have him home.
We had decided on a tiny funeral, with just immediate family, two friends and a couple of family friends. I later wondered if this was the right thing to do and I wished we opened it up to other people in our lives who love us. There are a couple of families in particular that I feel guilt and regret not having them there but at the time everything was so overwhelming.
Walking into the funeral parlour was harder than we thought it would be. I still have flashbacks of walking into that room and seeing the tiny white coffin that was so small it was sitting on a side table. I broke down and fell apart the moment I saw it. The saying “the smallest coffins are the heaviest” couldn’t be more true. It shouldn’t be possible that they are made that small- coffins are for adults who have lived a life, not for babies and children, it’s just not right or natural. It’s unfair and cruel. Everything that was wrong in the world was right there in front of us, sitting on a table.
I cried and cried as we both held him.
“Its ok” I whispered to him, “its ok baby, mummy and daddy are here”.
I didn’t want to let go, but Adam told me he wanted to make this perfect, we needed to spend the time making his cot (as we called it, unable to say the other word) right. I composed myself and we began a ritual of goodbye.
A blanket covered in clouds, my favourite blanket from my shop, was placed down, smoothed out perfectly on the bottom. We placed letters we wrote to him, letters from his mummy and daddy, up the side. Adam’s wedding tie was folded on the side of the cot and then we placed him in gently next to it. I laid the piece of my wedding dress over him and tucked it around him. Daddy will always be next to you and mummy’s arms around you, I told him. A newborn bodysuit I had purchased for my glory box when I was only 20 before I was ever pregnant, one that Emma and Ashton wore, was placed in there, and I thought “now you get to have it too”.
We put the items our children chose for him while we were in hospital a tiny wooden red tractor that Ashton picked for him and a comforter and singlet that Emma chose. When she came up to the hospital and showed me what she chose she told me,
“I picked a soft toy so he wont feel lonely and some clothes because I know he’s going to grow up, not here but somewhere else, and he can grow into it when he does.”
We folded a tiny blanket my mum crocheted for him that had 21 rows of flowers, each with 21 petals on representing the 21 weeks we had with him, under his head like a pillow. So often I have wanted to say to those who have dismissed our loss or not understood the gravity of it “Do you know what it’s like to put your child in a coffin?”.
By that stage our immediate family were there. They came in and placed some items in with him. My sister placed a photo of herself holding Elliott with a letter she wrote to him with a pair of nappy covers she brought him. My brother placed a letter from him, along with a tiny wooden sword and shield with Elliott’s initials he made him. He told me “Every little boy needs a sword and a shield”.
A poem with tiny beads in a bag from Adams mum, a St Christopher charm from a family friend and a strawberry my dad (who’s known to be a clown with the grand kids) found that looked like a hand, which he thought was a sign, were also placed in with him.
Everyone left the room and we had to close the box as we didn’t want the kids to see him laying in there. We didn’t want their last visual images of their brother to be him in a coffin instead of in their arms. I wanted nothing more but to take him out, to have more time, but everyone was waiting and we felt the pressure of getting the service started. Later I wished we hadn’t cared about that, I wished we had made everyone wait for us and had a bit more time with him. But no matter how much time we would have had, how is anyone ever ready for this.
“We’re not saying goodbye” we said again, “We’re just saying see you soon. You can go to peace and come home.” Adam picked up the lid and we kissed and kissed him as I cried loudly. Adam put one hand around me and held the lid over the box for a while. Then it happened, the lid went down. As it did I literally screamed and Adam cried “sorry, I’m so sorry”. It felt like someone put a sword through me. I felt like at that very moment I could just die. We cried harder than ever before, holding each other as tight as we could. The pain was unbearable. I can still hear Adams voice in my ear saying those words “I’m so sorry”.
We forced ourselves to stop crying and called our other two children in. Emma came straight in and placed a blanket my sister made Elliott. Ashton asked,
“Where’s Elliott? I want to see him, can I hold him again?”
They both cried when we said they couldn’t, that he was in his ‘special cot’ and we couldn’t take him out. We spent a few minutes hugging and crying together then called everyone else in to start. When Adam’s mum came in Ashton said to her,
“Elliott is hiding in the box… silly Elliott”.
We smiled afterwards thinking about it, knowing how much innocence it showed.
We all stood around his coffin as music we picked was played. I couldn’t take my hand off his coffin, I wanted him to know I was still there, even though he was all covered up. My sister, brother, mum, dad and Adam’s mum all spoke about their love for him and said beautiful goodbyes. Emma sang a little lullaby to him she made up. It was the only thing that brought a smile to us in that time. I said my goodbyes to him- I told him how much we love him, how wanted he is, how I was sorry I couldn’t keep him safe. I told him how perfect he was and how when he was born we felt the same overwhelming love and pride as we felt for the other two. I told him how cherished we were for the 21 weeks we had as I carried him, and the three days after and thanked him for that. Then Adam, the last of us, spoke. He spoke to Elliott and said how proud he was, how much he loved him, how he felt broken and that there will be nothing harder or more painful than saying goodbye to his beautiful son. As he talked he finally broke down, crying so heavily like the last three days all came out at once. Then just like that it was all finished, the goodbyes were done. Another song was played, we kissed and hugged everyone and they all left.
Adam was outside sorting a few things out leaving me alone in the room with Elliott. I wanted so badly to see him one last time, almost to check if he was there, even though we knew we placed him in there ourselves. I stood there, hands on the lid, torn if I should lift it or not. We made the decision to close the lid and I felt like that action nearly killed me. How could I do it again? In the end it was too much, I had to see him. I lifted it slightly right at the moment that Adam walked back in. I shut it quickly, like a naughty kid sprung doing something forbidden. He asked, “did you just do a sneaky look?” and I stammered “no… yes….” and strangely we both giggled. I told Adam I need to see him again, I need to kiss him just before they take him. So we lifted the lid, and there he was peacefully sleeping. We both kissed him again and told him how much we loved him. I told him again not only because I wanted to but I thought “just in case he couldn’t hear us through the box”.
We put the lid back on and funeral parlour owner came in. “I’m here to take him now” she said. We picked up his coffin, his tiny white coffin, and handed it to her. “Do you take him?” I asked again. “Yes, I have to take him” she said. So we handed him over and we watched her walk through the doors with our baby. This moment is another that haunts me, knowing it was the last second I spent with him. I look back on it and wonder how we got through that moment. I don’t know how I didn’t run after her, how she didn’t have to pry him out of my fingers. How my heart didn’t stop knowing he was about to be cremated, turned into “stardust”.
We sat down in the room together, now alone, now without our baby, and waited until the process was complete. 2 hours we sat in the room, truly exhausted and drained completely. We were both numb, and thought we were going to get some form of closure. We were happy that soon we would be taking him home, our little star dust baby. We announced the birth and passing of our baby Elliott to our friends and family on Facebook and sat there reading the condolences as they were made. We searched images of memory boxes for Adam to make. In what it felt like 10 minutes, our baby was returned to us in a little blue box with a bear on it. I didn’t cry, there was nothing left in me- no emotions, just emptiness and hollowness. All I could say was thank you and we walked out.
We sat in the car in silence for a while. Two broken people and our baby who was turned into stardust. Adam clutched at his chest and said he had a big pain where his heart is. I thought oh god he’s having a heart attack and I’d have to call an ambulance. He said to give him a minute and he’ll be ok. I waited anxiously as his pain subsided then we went to his wake, a small intimate dinner at my parents house.
Coming home didn’t meet our expectations of ‘closure’. The denial that was helping us get through the unthinkable began to leave us. We realised that while we ‘brought him home’ we were completely empty handed. We thought that everything would be ok because he was ‘with us’, but nothing was ok. The moment we came home we began our heart breaking journey of our life without him.